The big news of late in military law has been the possibility of a major overhaul of many aspects of the system. As we discussed in an earlier blog post, there has been significant media attention around how the military handles sexual assault cases.
Specifically, there have two simultaneous trends as reparative legislation has been developing. One trend is to overhaul the entire system, removing the criminal justice process from the military chain of command for most major crimes. The other trend is more moderate, to take only the sex crime prosecution process out of the military chain of command.
The new plan
According to a recent report from military.com, congress has agreed on a new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), one that leans more toward the moderate legal changes to military criminal justice yet still represents some substantial changes.
Limited scope of legal overhaul
Rather than moving most criminal prosecutions out of the military chain of command, the NDAA “establish[es] special victims prosecutors in each of the military branches to handle sexual assault, sexual harassment, crimes against minors and other related offenses.” These “other related offenses” include murder, manslaughter and kidnapping, among other charges.
Although limited in scope, the impact is significant
According to the House Armed Services Committee press release on the matter, the new NDAA will, among other things:
- Remove prosecution of sex-related criminal proceedings from the chain of command of both the accused and the victim
- Protect the independence of the judges, juries and proceedings in sex crime cases
- Ensure that prosecutors are well trained and qualified to handle these cases
These are significant changes. Now, more than ever, servicemembers accused of serious sex crimes should not hold out hope for an error or oversight on the part of the prosecutor, nor should they hope for any degree of leniency.
As predicted, with increased media attention around the issue of sex crimes in the military, changes have arrived that will safeguard justice for victims. For those facing these charges, it is more important than ever to secure a strong defense with an experienced military criminal defense lawyer.